Who Should Captain the 2011-12 Philadelphia Flyers?
Over the course of a long summer, there is usually a shortage of hockey-related issues to contemplate as the calendar slowly marches into late-July. But in Philadelphia, there never seems to be a lack of hockey banter.
When Paul Holmgren traded Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings on June 23rd, the move created more than just a hole at center.
It left the Philadelphia Flyers without a captain.
Questions about Richards’ leadership abilities circulated as the club struggled down the stretch, and gained momentum after the Flyers were swept out of the postseason in round two by the Boston Bruins. Most of the talk was generated from Philly-area mainstream media members but in retrospect, there was obviously fire to go along with the smoke.
Looking forward there are really three obvious candidates for the open position, and one other that has been mentioned to get a look at filling the vacancy.
In no particular order, the candidates are as follows, with their respective resumes attached:
Chris Pronger: 6′ 6″, 220-pound defenseman, turns 37 in early-October.
The upside of the “C” being given to Pronger: One of the most-respected and accomplished players on the Philadelphia roster. Prior to the recently-completed postseason, Pronger had made the Stanley Cup Finals in three of the previous five years – pulling off feat the feat with three different organizations (Edmonton Oilers 2006 – loss in 7 games; Anaheim Ducks in 2007 – win in 5 games; Flyers in 2009 – loss in 6 games).
Already one of the most vocal leaders on the club, Pronger was one of the few Flyers to call out teammates when the team was in their late-season tailspin. He doesn’t care what he has to say, all he wants is to win. And he has proven in each city that he has called home that he is an integral part of turning a franchise into a winner.
1,154 NHL regular season games, 156 goals, 686 points, 1,580 PIMs. 173 playoff contests, 26 goals, 121 points, 326 PIMs.
Maybe more important in the numbers game is to contrast his two postseasons in Philly to show his value to the Flyers. In his first playoff appearance with the club, Pronger played in all 23 games. He scored four goals and posted 18 points, was a +5, and recorded 36 PIMs. Not so coincidently, Philadelphia made its first trip to the Cup Finals since 1997.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, Pronger’s injury-plagued 2010-11 campaign continued into the postseason. He saw limited action in just three games, picking up just one assist, posting -3 rating, and sitting in the sin bin for four minutes. As Pronger goes, so go the Orange-and-Black, and after Philly pulled out a Game 7 first round with the Buffalo Sabres, they wouldn’t win a game in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Boston.
He has twice captained NHL teams with the St. Louis Blues and the Ducks.
The downside of the “C” being given to Pronger: When healthy and in the lineup, he is one of the most-feared competitors in the entire NHL, but that was a big “if” this past season. Pronger missed 32 games with three major injuries and resultant surgeries.
He underwent back surgery following the club’s playoff exit, and likely will not be ready for the start of the 2011-12 regular season.
There’s no doubting that the above-mentioned amount of NHL contests and with the physical nature in which Pronger has played those games and the amount of minutes he has logged – in addition to the international play for Team Canada through the years – have taken a toll on his body.
If the pattern continues for the club’s defensive anchor, it could end up being a detriment if Pronger is named captain but perpetually on the shelf.
Kimmo Timonen: 5′ 10″, 194 pounds, turns 37 in mid-March.
The upside of the “C” being given to Timonen: The smooth-skating defenseman has defied all odds and had a pretty decent career. Timonen wasn’t drafted until the 10th-round selection (250th overall) in the 1993 draft by of the Los Angeles Kings before being dealt to Nashville in late 1998.
Both Timonen and Scott Hartnell prepared to test unrestricted free agency following the 2006-07 season. Timonen had just been named captain of the team and proceeded to record career highs in both assists and points. Preds’ GM David Poile knew that he would not be able to sign either Timonen or Hartnell, so he traded the duo’s negotiating rights to Holmgren. The Flyers promptly re-signed both to long-term deals shortly after the trade.
Timonen has been one of the best Flyers’ defenders in franchise history since his arrival. In 321 games with the team, he has 23 goals, 163 points, and is a +28. The 163 points rank him 12th all-time among blue liners in franchise history. With a typical Timonen regular season, he could move into the top-five.
Timonen is a blue collar rear guard who hates to lose, and his disdain of the way the team played down the stretch was evident in the locker room most nights following tough-to-swallow defeats.
The downside of the “C” being given to Timonen: All the positives are not to say that Timonen isn’t wearing down, much like Pronger. The native of Kuopio, Finland has also played a ton of hockey during his playing days – 894 NHL regular season contests, and an additional 69 in the postseason. And he has logged major minutes in most of those battles. Timonen missed seven games in his first two seasons with the Flyers, but has seen action in all 164 over the last two campaigns.
Even though putting up good numbers last year – six goals, 37 points, +11, only 36 PIMs – there was a noticeable drop off in his game. The physical nature of the rough-and-tumble wars saw Timonen playing through injuries for a lot of the year.
As a matter of fact, since his career high of 55 points in the ’06-’07 season, Timonen has seen his offensive production gradually diminish each year (44 in ’07-’08, 43 in ’08-’09, 39 in ’09-’10, and 37 last year).
Danny Briere: 5′ 10″, 179 pounds, turns 34 on opening night when Philadelphia visits Boston on October 6th.
The upside of the “C” being given to Briere: One of the biggest bright spots in Philadelphia over the past 15 months has been the play of center-turned-winger-turned-center Danny Briere.
Despite putting up some decent numbers during his early time here after being signed as an UFA in the summer of 2007, Briere really hadn’t shown his true value to the team until the 2009 postseason. After being returned to his natural center position, the former Sabres’ co-captain posted 12 goals and 30 points in a 23-game march to the finals. His point total led all NHL playoff scorers and set a Flyers’ franchise record for a single postseason.
He carried that momentum over to last year with stellar play during the regular season, scoring a career-high 34 times and posting a career-best +20 rating. Briere went on to score seven goals in 11 games in the playoffs, and along with James van Riemsdyk, was one of the driving forces behind the club’s first-round triumph over Buffalo.
The rise in Briere’s play also coincided with his placement on a line between Hartnell and Ville Leino. The trio had been the team’s most consistent offensive producers since the beginning of the 2009 playoffs, so it will be interesting to see what affect the departure of Leino to Buffalo via free agency will have on Briere’s play.
Briere plays an emotional game and is usually quiet when off the ice, but his Easter Sunday locker room speech in Philly’s potential-elimination Game 6 in Buffalo may have increased his standing in team leadership. With the Flyers in a no-tomorrow-if-we-lose situation and trailing after two periods, the fiery ex-Sabre reportedly peeled the paint off of the locker room walls with his words to his teammates. The team rallied to tie the game in the third and win it in overtime.
Briere also had scored two goals earlier that afternoon, then picked up a goal and an assist two nights later in the series-deciding Game 7. He not only talks the talk, he backs it up by walking the walk.
The downside of the “C” being given to Briere: There are not a whole lot of glaring weaknesses in Briere’s game. One thing the coaching staff would love to see is for him to shed the propensity for taking bad / undisciplined / lazy stick penalties, especially late in tight games.
Being one of the club’s smaller players, Briere often times seems to take a good deal of punishment that goes unnoticed by the officials.
But they do not seem to miss many of his retaliations.
A wildcard in any speculation is none other than rising star center Claude Giroux. Many in the Philadelphia area have brought up his name since Richards’ exit, citing the fact that Giroux basically was the on-ice leader for much of the year, especially in the latter stages.
The meteoric rise of the 5′ 11″, 172 pound native of Hearst, Ontario was unrelenting during the 2010-11 campaign, as Giroux went on to lead the Flyers with 76 points, including 25 goals. But his effectiveness went far beyond the dazzling offensive wizardry, as he also established a physical element to his game.
The diminutive Giroux threw his weight around on many occasions with some huge, clean highlight-reel hits in support of a teammate who had been drilled earlier in the game. At other times he did the same by standing up for himself when larger players tried to shut him down through intimidation.
Giroux possesses far more offensive talent and upper-end scoring potential than Richards, who was thrust into a primary scoring role as the Flyers’ top-line center. Philly pushed Richards into the captaincy at the same age that Giroux coincidentally is now, 23.
There is no doubt that at the rate of development being shown by Giroux, he will one day wear the captain’s “C” in Philadelphia. But that day should come later rather than sooner, and management should learn from the Richards-era and their rush to create the organization’s “next Bobby Clarke“.
Another option is readily available. The team could choose to go with co-captains, much the same way Buffalo did a few seasons ago with the combo of Briere and Chris Drury.
There really is no wrong choice here for the Flyers, and any “downsides” listed for the players (except that of forcing Giroux too early) truly are rather insignificant.
The team is blessed with a strong core of leadership, some of which have won the Cup in the past. The group as a whole will be able to be more vocal with Richards’ departure. There was talk in the last few seasons of veterans needing to watch out for “stepping on toes” by speaking out, and that shouldn’t be an issue now.
There should be further help in this area with the addition of Jaromir Jagr, another player who has won Cups in the past. There was an instant backlash from Flyer Nation to the signing of a player who had been a previous arch-rival, but he still has enough game left and abilities to lead the way with the growing amount of youngsters on the roster.
It would appear that Pronger would have the inside track for the vacant captaincy. There were murmurs before the shocking trade of Richards that the outspoken defenseman could replace him in the position even if Richards had remained with the team.
With the situation being somewhat clouded by Pronger’s injury status, I am still expecting the hulking blue liner to be named captain of his third different club.
Back in May, I did an article on the Flyers’ perpetual search for a number one netminder and the possible candidates. In that poll, an overwhelming majority (62%) voted for Ilya Bryzgalov as the answer to Philly’s age old question mark. Make your feelings known on the Flyers’ captaincy here:
If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle